Turkish Tradesmen Carry Out Demonstrations Throughout Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters)–Thousands of tradesmen frustrated by the economic crisis that has rocked Turkey for the past six weeks staged fresh protests on Thursday calling for Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to resign. Protesters blocked roads in the capital Ankara and at least three other major cities chanting slogans and carrying placards criticizing the government’s handling of the crisis.

The central city of Konya was the scene of the biggest demonstration and police used water canons to disperse the crowd–state-run Anatolian news agency said. Some demonstrators threw stones at police and there were several injuries.

Public anger has grown since the financial crisis forced the government to float the lira–which has since lost over 40 percent of its value against the dollar–triggering sharp price rises in imported goods such as fuel. The crisis has had a particularly harsh impact on small businesses and those who took out loans in hard currency.

NTV television broadcast pictures of the protest in Konya showing placards reading “Ecevit go” and “IMF get out.” The crowd shouted “Here are the tradesmen–where is the government.”

Protesters in Ankara and the western port city of Izmir dispersed peacefully after police warnings–Anatolian said.

Thursday’s demonstrations came a day after several thousand small businessmen took to streets in the capital to protest. One angry businessman threw a cash register towards Ecevit as the PM was leaving his Ankara office.

Trade unions and business groups have pledged nationwide demonstrations against the government’s new economic plans–which they say do not meet ordinary people’s needs.

Ecevit’s government is trying to push key legislation through parliament to provide concrete evidence of its credibility to persuade foreign lenders to come up with financial support. The measures under discussion include privatization and a major overhaul of the banking system. Turkish Economy Minister Kemal Dervis told union leaders he was hopeful a new economic program could be concluded with the IMF towards the end of next week–his office told Reuters on Thursday.

One of Dervis’s advisers denied media reports that Dervis had said Turkey was about to default on its debts–saying that in fact Dervis had been outlining possible worst-case scenarios in the event that an economic program was not implemented.

“We have to look for voluntary solutions among social sectors–we have to meet our additional resource needs voluntarily,” the official quoted Dervis as saying–reading from the minutes of a meeting with union leaders on Wednesday at which he sought their support for economic reforms.

“A program to be set up that way will meet foreign support. If we can not provide secure voluntary support then such countries are faced with two options: (first) they are unable to pay their debts. The other one is enforced non-voluntary solutions emerge. This is called consolidation. This is not a valid solution.”

“The Central Bank prints money. The result would be hyperinflation,” he was quoted as saying. “This is something that is never desired. Besides–I do not know how a democracy would put up with this. Therefore we have no other solution except to form the program with voluntary cooperation,” he said.

Turkey reached a framework agreement with the IMF last month and it has said it aims to conclude a new program in April. Dervis has identified 15 priority laws he wants to see passed by mid-April as evidence of Turkey’s commitment to reforms–so as to win foreign support for the new program.

“I am not pessimistic at all. We are trying to show certain efforts. These efforts for example are increasing our primary surplus target–and taking steps for the legislation seen as urgent–some of which are about to pass anyway,” he said.

“In this framework foreign funds could be seriously obtained. I am hopeful on that. We think the program could be concluded with the IMF towards the end of next week or mid-April.”


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